What is a Thoracic Surgeon?
A thoracic surgeon is a medical doctor who performs operations on the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest and has dedicated his entire career to taking care of the problem you have.
It takes as long as 16 years for a thoracic surgeon to start his career. After graduating from college he attended 4 years of medical school and then completed a challenging five-year general surgery program.
Once completed he applies for a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery. This is a three year program teaching the fundamentals of cardiovascular surgery, pediatric cardiac surgery, and general thoracic surgery. During this time he must pass his general surgery boards to be board eligible in thoracic surgery. This is followed by written and oral exams specifically related to cardiothoracic surgery.
Because of the huge volume of knowledge in each discipline, most physicians decide to specialize in one of the three areas. The majority of graduating physicians go into adult cardiac surgery. This usually consists of heart bypass surgery, valve replacement, pacemakers, and surgery on the great vessels. A few go into pediatric heart surgery to work with infants and children.
Still others, such as Dr. Malone, have decided to specialize only in general thoracic surgery. They operate on patients with lung and esophageal cancers and other diseases related to the chest. They coordinate your surgical care as a team member with gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, oncologists and radiation specialists in multidisciplinary formats.
What does it mean to be a board certified Thoracic Surgeon?
The American Board of Thoracic Surgery (ABTS) maintains standards for the practice of thoracic surgery in the public interest. Thoracic surgeons who have completed approved residency training, hold a full and unrestricted license to practice medicine in the United States, and maintain an ethical standing in the profession are eligible for board certification. Candidates must then pass both a written examination that is designed to test a broad range of knowledge in all areas of thoracic surgery. Upon successful completion of the written examination, candidates are eligible for and must pass an oral examination that tests knowledge, judgment and the integration of these skills in clinical practice. Once successful in these pursuits, a thoracic surgeon is “board certified”. In order to keep this certification, the maintenance of certification process is required to demonstrate lifelong learning throughout the thoracic surgeons’ career.
How is a Thoracic Surgeon different from a cardiologist or pulmonologist?
A cardiologist will primarily diagnose disorders of the heart and treat them with medication. Cardiologists also perform interventions on the arteries in the heart working through puncture wounds in the groin, but they do not do open surgery.
A pulmonologist will diagnose disorders of the lung and treat them with medication. Some pulmonologists will perform interventions through the airway such as bronchoscopy to diagnose some disorders but again, they do not perform open surgery.
Why should I see a Thoracic Surgeon?
Your primary care physician, cardiologist, pulmonologist, or gastroenterologist may send you to a thoracic surgeon if he/she feels that you could benefit from an operation to treat a condition involving the heart, lungs, esophagus, mediastinum, or chest wall.